Burn Creative Thinking Right Into Your Brain

Mindy Tyson McHorse here, happy to serve you as guest editor of The Writer’s Life again.

This week, I want to talk to you about creativity. As in, do you really need it? And if so, how do you get it? Can you buy it? Borrow it? Steal it?

The answers may surprise you (they did me).

But first, let’s explore the core question: is it really that important that we be creative as writers? After all, we can get by well enough just by following the proven formulas for quality copywriting and other types of freelance writing.

That’s true … but if you want a high income … quickly … while doing as little work as possible … then the answer is yes – creativity is a MUST.

Sure, you can be an effective writer if you follow templates and churn out by-the-numbers headlines, autoresponders, landing pages, etc. But nobody is going to beat down your door and beg you to write for them.

Creative writers who go beyond what’s expected and present their clients with extraordinary ideas are the ones who surpass “normal” career success.

And they’re the ones who have clients begging for more.

Clearly, it’s in your best interest to constantly hone your creativity. But here’s the good news: it doesn’t matter whether you were “born creative” or not. Creativity can be learned. In fact, it can be burned right into your brain.

Neurologically, the concept is called “use-dependant plasticity.” Most of us know of it as “neural pathways.” In other words, you can create new neural pathways when you exercise your brain beyond its current limits.

It’s the whole “use it or lose it” concept. As we age, we tend to lose our ability to create new neural pathways. Fortunately, we can reverse this process through a little effort.

I first learned this lesson as a sophomore in high school. At a convention for boosting creativity, one of the speakers talked about the importance of trying new things and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

She said when we do things the same way every day, it has a wearing effect on our brains. Just like taking the same path through a forest, day after day, we wind up laying a definitive trail. In the meantime, the forest trees and plants grow up thick around us so that we have no choice but to stay on the path.

The same is true for our brains. If we repeat the same actions every day, we create deep pathways of regularity. The other untouched areas of our brains become inaccessible through lack of use. Our entrenched neural pathways restrict us to specific, unalterable ways of doing things.

This is bad. It means we get stuck in our ways, unable to think outside the box.

The solution? Force your mind to develop new neural pathways. Doing so sparks your imagination, makes you more versatile, and absolutely enhances creativity – all traits successful writers should have.

Prompting new neural pathways in your brain is easy. Try the following:

  1. Eat something different for breakfast.
  2. Take a new route to the grocery store, even if it means going out of your way.
  3. Try a restaurant in your town you’d normally never go to.
  4. Order something you’ve never tried from that restaurant menu.
  5. Buy and wear clothes or jewelry or a hat that people who know you would never expect to see you in.
  6. Read a book in a genre you’ve never tried.
  7. Approach a stranger and start a conversation.
  8. Travel somewhere you never thought you’d go. (So, if camping trips are your habit, go to a resort. If you prefer luxurious cruises, try a vacation where you do volunteer work.)

Or (and this is one of my favorite learning techniques) change up your learning process. For example, when I want to watch a webinar or a presentation to improve my skills, I make an event out of it. In the same way I go all out on movie night with my husband, I’ll pop some popcorn, make a milkshake, and put it on our big-screen television.

Taking yourself out of your office and regular “learning cave” can make it easier to absorb new concepts. (I highly recommend doing this with the Bootcamp Home Study program, which is currently at a closeout discount and available for only $249 until tomorrow.)

Any of these ideas will trigger the development of new neural pathways in your brain. But as you get started, keep two things in mind:

First, remember you’re doing this to improve your skills as a writer and your ability to think quickly when faced with an unfamiliar situation. It’s not all fun and games.

Second, stick with it! You can’t try a new thing just once and expect it to make a fundamental difference in the way you think.

Keep trying new things. Keep challenging yourself. You’ll gradually see a shift in your attitude and an all-around improvement in your ability to react.

I’m going to go and do something wild and different tonight as a kick-off to this new idea. I think I’ll go with hot yoga (talk about stretching past your own limits – that’s yoga at 105 degrees!).

What about you – what will you do to spark your creativity development? Let me know by posting a comment below.

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Published: January 30, 2012

6 Responses to “Burn Creative Thinking Right Into Your Brain”

  1. Hi Mindy,

    I recently read a great book called, "The Creative Habit; Learn it and Use it For Life." It has tons of non-writing ideas (it was written by Twyla Tharp, a choreographer) on how to increase creativity.

    Guest (Mandy Marksteiner)January 30, 2012 at 7:16 pm

  2. Mindy -

    Want to spark creativity?

    When you're faced with trying to develop a piece of copy, think about how your kids (or grandkids) would approach/solve it. In fact, maybe even ask them what they think. While you might not use their idea as-is, it'll probably spark some related thought in your own brain.

    Another thought: Think about "this reminds me of . . . " and then fill in the blank. Although it might be entirely unrelated, that starts the process of "which reminds me of . . ." You could keep this process going and going until you finally get to the point where you can actually put down some creative copy.

    Google searching also helps me to get moving when trying to get the creative juices flowing.

    - Gene

    Gene SzajJanuary 30, 2012 at 9:53 pm

  3. Because I cannot get to a gym these days, I decided to buy a skipping rope and jump rope for 10 minutes everyday. A personal trainer friend shared this tip with me. It works wonders for fitness and produces endorphins (these little guys are responsible for the 'feel good' attitude that follows working out) .... where there are endorphins, creativity is sure to follow - can't wait to begin...as I have my freelance webcopywriting website needing attention :) !!

    Guest (Kellie)January 30, 2012 at 9:58 pm

  4. I was introduced to the idea of NLP (neuro linguistic programming) by a very large bald man who made me very uncomfortable and distrusting of the concept. Then I met and listened to another NLP guru who really made sense. His name is Jonathan Manske. Jonathan conducts workshops and has written several books, including a workbook/journal titled, "A Great Life Does Not Happen By Accident. I would like to suggest checking out his website. His approach works for me!

    Marti in ColoradoFebruary 4, 2012 at 11:50 am

  5. I was a member of a group that frequently played Pictionary. There was one player everyone wanted on their team, because it seemed that his team always won. He was totally blind, so could not see the pictures. He would listen to the words others were throwing out and free associate to come-up with new contributions. It works!

    Guest (Mary Orchard)February 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm

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